Don’t Treat Your Pastor Like a Slice of Bread

Came across this illustration recently in a different context than church, but the sentiment is the same. You treat someone like a slice of bread when you try to butter them up! It’s also called flattery. Consider Proverbs 26:28, “A lying tongue hates those who are crushed by it, and a flattering mouth works ruin. (NKJ) See also Proverbs 29:5, “A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.” (NKJ)

One church I attended had social times after their services at which the women of the church would serve heavily buttered bread. My siblings and I still refer to these as “_______ sandwiches” in honor of that particular church. They consisted of a slice of bread spread with a thick layer of butter, over which was spread another layer of butter, which in turn was topped with yet another layer of butter. Yum! Butter was cheaper in those days.

Over the years I have been “buttered” by a variety of people, but probably no more so than by one particular family (who will remain anonymous). Sadly, while they buttered the bread publicly with one hand, they worked hard at privately scraping what they perceived as burnt toast with the other. You understand, I think. The mushy compliments that flowed on Sunday after the sermon were certainly spread on thick, sometimes with tears in their eyes and on their cheeks. Yet I soon began to realize that it was not butter that was being spread. Years later I came to learn that the family would spread it on thick after the service, but once they got home would scrape it off and tear me to shreds in front of their children. No wonder their children exhibited the attitudes they did.

By all means, it is not wrong to compliment your pastor. Express your gratitude in a Godward manner. Encourage him in a God-centered way. But do him and yourself a favor; be sincere when you talk with him. Don’t lie to him about your response to what you just heard. A Biblically appropriate compliment can be a great complement to a life transformed by the power of God’s Spirit using the Word of God for the glory of God and for the good of God’s people. Don’t treat your pastor like a slice of bread.

Lessons on marriage from the book of Ruth

We have enjoyed our journey through the book of Ruth during our congregation’s midweek service. One of the helpful things we have learned is the word picture for marriage as described in 1:9 and 3:1.

Consider Ruth 1:9. Naomi has lost her husband and both her sons (1:1-5). Most are familiar with that aspect of the story. In 1:6-8 she strongly encourages her two Moabite daughters=in-law to return to their respective mother’s house, praying especially that Yahweh will demonstrate loyal-mercy to them (1:8). In 1:9 she prays again that Yahweh will grant each of these young widows to find what? She longs for them to find rest or security in the house of a husband. The key word here is rest/security.

The root of the Hebrew word menuchah [# 4496] refers to quietness with a sense of security. A calm and soothing place to land, in other words. Remember when God’s ark in which Noah was spared came to rest on the mountains of Ararat (Genesis 8:4). Remember also that the dove could find no resting place (Genesis 8:9). Think of the calm waters by which the Shepherd leads His flock (Psalm 23:1). Is this what your home is like? That’s apparently what Naomi thought of when she thought of a home. What a blessing her God had given to her through her husband Elimelech. She wants that for these Moabite daughters-in-law.

But see also Ruth 3:1. As Naomi planned to resolve their situation, she asked Ruth the rhetorical question, “Shall I not seek rest/security for you, that it may be well with you?” She longs for Ruth to experience the type of marriage relationship she enjoyed with Elimelech. Apart from the hustle and bustle of life, her home was a place of quietness and calm. A place of serenity and repose. Is this what your home is like?

I have been blessed by God with a restful home. My dear wife has graciously endured my idiosyncrasies for nearly 35 years. I have always considered our home a refuge, a place of safety apart from the battles of life and ministry. I weep for those pastors and deacons whose homes are anything but a place of quietness.

I remember hearing one deacon freely admit, “My wife and I fight all the time. We argue in front of the kids regularly.” This ought not to be. Or the pastor’s home in which the children regularly run for cover because Dad is home again and the fireworks with Mom are about to begin. They run for cover to their rooms, or else hide behind books or computer/TV screens hoping to avoid the fallout from what is taking place in the kitchen or at the dining room table. Hopefully it won’t spill over onto them this time.

Our homes should be a sheltering refuge where our family members can calmly roost with a sense of tranquility and security. Perhaps this is part of the reason why God urges Christian wives to have a unassuming and tranquil heart (1st Peter 3:4). A wife’s attitude is so crucial to establishing the atmosphere in the home. This, however, does not eliminate the need for the husband to do his part to ensure tranquility in the home (Philippians 4:6-9). It is a two-way street in which both are responsible.

Is your home a place of comforting rest?

When Human Effort is Not Sinful

There is a portion of contemporary Christianity that claims it is sinful for a Christian to attempt to do anything in their sanctification or ministry. All human effort is sinful. It is, they claim, Jesus plus nothing. Now, it sounds very pious and mature, but the real question is: is it Biblical? The answer is a resounding, No! Consider the following passages of Scripture.

 Jesus tells us, “Exert every effort [agonizomai] to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Luke 13:24, NET)

Paul says, “Each competitor [agonizomai] must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. (1st Corinthians 9:25, NET)

Again Paul says, “Toward this goal I also labor, struggling [agonizomai] according to his power that powerfully works in me.” (Colossians 1:29, NET)

Epaphras is commended by Paul when he writes, “Epaphras, who is one of you and a slave of Christ, greets you. He is always struggling [agonizomai] in prayer on your behalf, so that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” (Colossians 4:12, NET)

Timothy is commended to exert human effort when Paul writes, “Compete well [agonizomai] for the faith and lay hold of that eternal life you were called for and made your good confession for in the presence of many witnesses.” (1st Timothy 6:12, NET)

Near the end of his life, Paul writes, “I have competed [agonizomai] well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith!” (2nd Timothy 4:7, NET)

It is assumed Christians struggle against sin, “You have not yet resisted to the point of bloodshed in your struggle [antagonizomai] against sin.” (Hebrews 12:4, NET)

Jude, Jesus’ half-brother, writes to his readers, “Dear friends, although I have been eager to write to you about our common salvation, I now feel compelled instead to write to encourage you to contend earnestly [epagonizomai] for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” (Jude 1:3, NET)

So, the next time some perhaps well-intentioned Christian tells you to “Let go and let God,” remind them of these verses. Cling to these verses, because we are not only commanded to exert ourselves in the Christian life, we are commended for doing so. Didn’t Jesus Himself say that the time will eventually come when the words “Well done, good and faithful slave” (Matthew 25:21, 23) will be spoken?

Bible Study in Ruth

For the last couple of months our congregation has been working through the Old Testament book of Ruth during our midweek evening service. You can find PDFs of the outline notes as well as MP3 recordings at our church’s web site here. It has been a refreshing time to look at God’s wisdom, sovereignty, and grace revealed in the lives of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. Feel free to follow along in our study.

A Pastor Without the Biblical Languages Is …

Came across this helpful quote recently.

One of my biggest disappointments is when I go into a pastor’s office and see that there are no (or very few) books. It is like going into a carpenter’s shop and seeing no tools.

I have seen the consequences of tool-less carpenters over the years (or should we say wannabe carpenters who didn’t have any tools).

I also remember entering one pastor’s office and seeing one theology book on his shelf. One! That helped explain things for me. Another pastor had no visible books in his office at all. Perhaps his library was at home, but then again, maybe not.

Sadly I have heard wannabe pastors mock the use of the original languages of the Bible, scoffing at those who took the time to research what the Greek or Hebrew actually said. Tool-less carpenters at the mercy of other translators. This is part of what it means to be “able to teach” (1st Timothy 3:2).

Encourage your pastor to learn the languages, if he doesn’t know them already. If he has let them slide since seminary, gently rebuke him, and then encourage him to put his nose to the grindstone. There are so many useful tools available, not the least of which is BibleWorks. There are no excuses!

Help your pastor acquire the appropriate tools. Just like good carpentry tools, it will cost you some money to set up shop. But it will be worth every penny you spend as a church to enrich your pastor’s library.

I Miss The Person I Thought You Were

Quite some time ago someone shared with me the expression that is the title for this post. The particular context of that conversation is not the key concept that I want to focus on, however. It is the point of their expression: I miss the person I thought you were. It applies to a wide variety of situations, does it not?

The wife who finds out her husband has been committing adultery with a woman from work misses the husband she thought she knew. The trust has been broken. He was something different at work than he was at home.

The pastor who finds out his assistant pastor has been lying about him behind his back misses the assistant pastor he thought he knew. The trust has been broken. He was something different away from him than he was in his presence.

The church member who finds out a fellow church member is in reality an unrepentant drunkard and wife abuser in private misses the fellow church member he thought he knew. The trust has been broken. He was something different at home than he was at church gatherings.

The soldier who finds out that a member of his unit is unreliable in the heat of battle misses the fellow soldier he thought he knew. The trust has been broken. He was something different in battle than he was at Basic.

The manager who finds out that a certain worker he had consistently depended on does not stand up well under intense pressure misses the worker he thought he knew. The trust has been broken. He was something different under pressure than he was at ease.

The child who finds out that his church-going father has been deceiving him for years misses the father he thought he knew. The trust has been broken. He was something different at home than he was everywhere else.

It has to do with consistently meeting the appropriate expectations of others. It has to do with keeping your word, no matter what the cost. It has to do with being people of character.

It is called integrity. Living, breathing, thinking with integrity. Consider the powerful words of Psalm 21:1-12 and Psalm 41:1-13.

Consider also these wise words:

  • The one who conducts himself in integrity will live securely, but the one who behaves perversely will be found out.” (Proverbs 10:9 NET)
  • The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the unfaithful destroys them. (Proverbs 11:3 NET)
  • Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is perverse in his speech and is a fool.” (Proverbs 19:1 NET)
  • The righteous person behaves in integrity; blessed are his children after him.” (Proverbs 20:7 NET)

Let us determine by God’s grace to be people of integrity in all areas of our lives, for the glory of God and the good of those in our spheres of influence. Thus, it would not be said of us, “I miss the person I thought they were.”

Healthy Accountability

A recent post from this site details 7 marks of enduring accountability relationships. I will not reproduce all of those here. What struck me this morning as I read these marks were the first two: voluntary and trusted.

Accountability is something that every wise pastor chooses. There is the appropriate self-distrust, a recognition that sin is a battle we all face. Pastors and deacons are not immune to it. You deliberately seek out other men whom you know love you and are concerned for your spiritual welfare.

Trust is the author’s second mark. He writes, “The other person(s) is someone you trust, admire their character, and believe has good judgment.” I am truly thankful for my godly wife as well as certain men in my life whom I trust and admire. Long ago I learned that one cannot trust someone just because they claim to be a Christian. Nor can you admire everyone who makes such a claim. The list of people I trust and admire to this extent is fairly short.

Some may call me cynical, but I think it springs from my understanding of Jesus’ concentric circles of social interaction. The outermost circle was Jesus’ interaction with the crowds. The second circle was that of those who responded positively to Him and His message (the disciples in general). The third circle was that of the 12. The fourth circle was that of Peter, James, and John. And the innermost circle was that of John, whom Jesus loved. Certain truths were revealed at each level that were not made known in the previous circle, but as the circles move inward the degree of trust and admiration of character grew.

For instance, consider the challenge in John 6:66-71. Jesus permitted many “disciples” to walk away without chasing after them shouting, “Wait, you’ve misunderstood. Please come back!” He let them go, and then challenged the remaining 12.

Consider that Peter, James and John experienced the Transfiguration of Christ, but the other disciples did not. Consider that John was told the identification of Judas while the other disciples at the Last Supper were not. Not everyone was granted the same level of social access. Nor was expected as some right to be claimed.

Accountability is not something you can demand from others; it is something they grant to you. What a privilege for you to have someone trust you and admire your character to that extent. Again, I am thankful to God for my wife and for the few men with whom I have shared such a relationship over the years.

Why Do People Go To Hell?

Things That Go Bump In The Church” was written by a trio of pastors, namely, Mike Abendroth, Clint Archer, and Byron Yawn. They have a Master’s Seminary education in common, as well as a commitment to the authority and sufficiency of the Bible, as well as sound doctrine. They cover a variety of topics that arise in discussions in many congregations. You will find some of their writing over at The Cripplegate blog.

I was encouraged by what I read throughout this book. In particular, Yawn’s chapter on Homosexuality was a helpful balance to much of what is heard in contemporary Christianity. I found the following reminder to be timely:

This means that people’s behavior is not the primary issue concerning their relationship to God. Behavior is the symptom of the real problem. The real issue is systemic. Homosexuality is not why homosexuals go to hell. In the same way, adultery is not why adulterers go to hell. Murder is not why murderers go to hell. Morality is not why moralists go to hell. Sinners (that includes all of humanity) go to hell because they are sinners. Sin may manifest itself in various behaviors. The point is, the Gospel inconveniences everyone because everyone is in need of transformation. Drug addicts may be born with an addictive personality, but this does not excuse the destructiveness and idolatry of their addiction.

Heterosexuals need to repent just as much as homosexuals do. If we say they don’t, then we are not preaching Christ correctly. Again, the gospel is nondiscriminatory in its declaration. All men are sinners. All men must believe in Christ’s work to be saved. No exceptions. Moralists trusting their morality for salvation must repent of their “good” ways. Immoral folks ignoring their immorality must repent of their “bad” ways. (199)

Frustration Can Morph Into Bitterness

Someone has wisely said that frustration is the lordship of my desires. When those desires are not met with any regularity, it may lead to bitterness. Consider the following examples.

A man attends a church for a period of time, assuming that after this said period of time he has earned the right to have his suggestions taken seriously, or even adopted by the leadership and the congregation. When his suggestion is turned down the first time, he has a choice. He can either respond in a Godward manner and submit, or he can grow frustrated that his suggestion was rejected. If rejection occurs a second or third time, the choice remains the same. Sadly, too often the choice is made to become more frustrated over the “bad leadership” or the “terrible decisions by the congregation.” The frustration continues to simmer, eventually morphing into bitterness. He now resents the leadership God placed over him and the congregation God placed him into. He withdraws. He withholds. He sees himself as the victim. Godward thinking is replaced by selfward thinking.

A wife longs for her husband to become a consistent man of God. She regularly prays for him, hoping that he will begin to match the ideal she has in her mind. As time progresses she grows frustrated that her husband, of all people, is not becoming what she wants. Frustration grows. After all, the husbands of other women have been observed to be growing spiritually. Why not hers? She deserves a better husband than what she currently has. Eventually her frustration morphs into bitterness. She now resents the man God placed in her life. She withdraws. She withholds. She sees herself as the victim. Godward thinking is replaced by selfward thinking.

Pastors have observed this again and again over the years. Sadly, many of those who have grown frustrated eventually leave the congregation for greener pastures, only to eventually find the same problems at the next church. “It is curious how such symptoms are so widespread,” they think. These people are carriers of the problem, but fail to recognize their own guilt in the matter. Their frustration and bitterness have blinded them. It is interesting, however, that both church leadership and members can see it quite clearly. And weep.

Letter Writing: Depends on What You Want to Convey

As our family reads through various Bible passages at our mealtimes, we have recently read Luke’s account of Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem and his subsequent journey to Caesarea Maritima under the protective guard of nearly 500 soldiers (Acts 21-24). What caught my eye this time was the creative letter writing by the commander (chiliarch, commander of 600-1,000 troops or a cohort). In Acts 22:24 the commander orders Paul brought into the barracks (probably the Fortress Antonia) to have him examined by scourging. The centurion (commander of 100 troops) found out from Paul that Paul was indeed a Roman citizen and the chiliarch became afraid because of how he had treated Paul (24:25-29).

Following the fascinating account of Paul’s disruption of the Sanhedrin in chapter 22:30-23:10, the chiliarch returns Paul to the barracks. God then providentially uses Paul’s nephew to spare Paul’s life from an ambush (23:11-22). Having prepared the troops for Paul’s protection, the chiliarch Claudius Lysias writes a letter to governor Felix.

Notice how the events recorded by Luke up till now are repainted to highlight Claudius Lysias himself! (Compare 23:27 with 21:31-40). He is the one who rescued Paul from the Jews in the temple out of concern for Paul’s Roman citizenship. Notice how he changes when he claims he knew about Paul’s citizenship. Notice how he omits his attempt to scourge Paul. He does, however, get the part right about his calling the Sanhedrin together. Thankfully we have Luke’s inspired version of the events. True Truth, instead of Claudius Lysias’ reinterpretation of those events.

Perhaps you have been a victim, so to speak, of the reinterpretation of events by someone else. Perhaps they have even taken the time to put their creative writing skills to use and sent a copy to others, deliberately distorting the actual events. People are still people, aren’t they? Even after hundreds or thousands of years, people still paint themselves in the best light out of self-interest. Unfortunately, like Felix, there will be those who will believe the literary fiction rather than the truth.

But be of good cheer. There is One who knows the truth. There is One who examines the hearts, even of creative writers who paint distorted self-portraits. In this One we can find comfort. Take comfort in the following passages from the Old Testament.

I know also, my God, that You test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. As for me, in the uprightness of my heart I have willingly offered all these things; and now with joy I have seen Your people, who are present here to offer willingly to You. (1st Chronicles 29:17 NKJ)

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings. (Jeremiah 17:10 NKJ)

And then these two passages from the book of Acts.

And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen (Acts 1:24 NKJ)

So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, (Acts 15:8 NKJ)